Pieter Bruegel, Tower of Babel, 1563
William Gaddis begins his last novel, published a decade, with three questions that are just as pertinent today as when he posed them. His novel, a bare 96 pages, was the distillation of 50 years of research for a non fiction book on the history of the player piano in America, Gaddis choosing this lamentable invention to stand for the mechanization of the arts, and its consequent dehumanization and democratization…. “every 4 year old with a computer his own artist.” ….
No, but you see I’ve got to explain all this because I don’t, we don’t know how much time there is left and I have to work on the, to finish this work of mine while I, why I’ve brought in this whole pile of books notes pages clippings and God knows what, get it all sorted and organized when I get this property divided up and the business and worries that go with it while they keep me here to be cut up and scraped and stapled and cut up again my damn leg look at it, layered with staples like that old suit of Japanese armour in the dining hall feel like I’m being dismantled piece by piece, houses, cottages, stables orchards and all the damn decisions and distractions I’ve got the papers land surveys deeds and all of it right in this heap somewhere, get it cleared up and settled before everything collapses and it’s all swallowed up by lawyers and taxes like everything else because that’s what it’s about, that’s what my work is about, the collapse of everything, of meaning, of language, of values, of art, disorder and dislocation wherever you look, entropy drowning everything in sight, entertainment and technology and every four year old with a computer, everybody his own artist where the whole thing came from, the binary system and the computer where technology came from in the first place, you see? I can’t even go into it, you see that’s what I have to go into before all my work is misunderstood and distorted and, and turned into a cartoon because it is a cartoon, whole stupefied mob out there waiting to be entertained, turning the creative artist into a performer, into a celebrity like Byron, the man in the place of his work when probability came in and threw that whole safe predictable Newtonian world into chaos, into disorder wherever you turn, discontinuity, disparity, difference, discord, contradiction, what they’re calling aporia they took from the Greeks, the academics took the word from the Greeks for this swamp of ambiguity, paradox, perversity, opacity, obscurity, anarchy, the clock without the clockmaker and the desperate comedy of Kierkegaard’s insane Knight of Belief and even Pascal’s famous wager in a world where everyone is “so necessarily mad that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness” where the artist is today, the artist the real artist Plato warned us about, the threat to society and the, read Huizinga on Plato and music and the artist as dangerous and art as dangerous and music in this mode and that mode, the Phrygian mode to quiet you down and the tenor and bass Lydian to make you sad and the soft and drinking harmonies, the Lydian and the Ionian where the art the, the artist having trouble breathing here I, coming out of the anaesthesia down in the recovery room tried to raise my leg and it suddenly jumped up by itself like a, like the pain avoiding that’s what all this is about isn’t it? Seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, beyond the pleasure principle?